Tupac Shakur was undoubtedly one of the greatest rappers of all-time, as well as one of the best-selling, but before he was considered the G.O.A.T., he started his career as a roadie, backup dancer, and emcee for the alternative hip-hop group, Digital Underground. He quickly rose to fame for his controversial lyrics which depicted violence, crime, racism, police brutality, poverty, and other social issues in a manner that no other rapper had before.
His debut album, 2Pacalypse now, received critical acclaim despite outrageous claims from then-Vice President Dan Quayle regarding the music’s influence in the murder of Texas police officer. It went on to chart at No. 13 on the R&B/Hip-Hop charts and peaked at No. 64 on the Billboard 200 charts, and was later certified gold by the RIAA with just under a million copies sold worldwide.
But it was his follow-up album, Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z… [Never Ign’ant Getting Goals Accomplished] which has long been considered his big breakthrough, spawning three chart-topping singles and debuting at No. 24 on the Billboard 200 charts.
“Holler If Ya Hear Me” was Tupac’s first real foray into hardcore hip-hop, with this anthem of resistance produced by the late Randy “Stretch” Walker. It was the first real glimpse at how Pac uses his own narrative and the foundations of the Black Panther Movement to convey his frustration with poverty and police injustice.
Tupac was never one to take politics lightly. So, when Quayle remarked “there is absolutely no reason for a record like this to be published. It has no place in our society,” he took it upon himself to respond with what is arguably one of the most ingenious pseudo-diss tracks of all-time. Using an audio sample of the former Vice President’s remarks he explains that he is not responsible for the violence in American society, “I diagnosed it.” How’s that for politics?
One of his more interestingly introspective tracks, “Point the Finga,” takes fire at yet another politician/activist, C. DeLores Tucker, who in the early ’90s sought to ban his music and gangsta rap altogether. So when they point the blame at him, he returns with “the middle.”
“Last Wordz” was one of the more overlooked tracks, which is understandable when compared to the heavy-hitting singles featured on his sophomore record, but it features noteworthy guest appearances from two legendary gangsta rappers Ice Cube and Ice-T. But what makes the track so incredible is not just the verse, but the multi-layered beat co-produced by Bobby “Bobcat“ Ervin and the late-Jam Master Jay of Run-DMC.
Pac caught a lot of flack for “Souljah’s Revenge” which speaks out against the frequency of abuse by police in South Central Los Angeles, which he follows with “Peep Game” a song about being woke to what is really going in the world around you.
“Keep Ya Head Up” was a game changer, from its soulful sample of the “Ooh Child” by the Five Stairsteps, to its pro-feminist statements… it was one of the first truly progressive hip-hop anthems. Featuring Dave Hollister and dedicated to Latasha Harlins, the song is also considered to be one of the quintessential hip-hop songs of all-time. It went on to chart at No. 7 on the Hip-Hop/R&B charts and No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100.
“I Get Around” peaked at No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. Featuring Greg “Shock G” Jacobs, otherwise known as “Humpty Hump,” and Money B of the Oakland based group Digital Underground join 2Pac on this ’93 classic about staying single… because, if you didn’t already guess, women loved 2Pac.
Tupac would make the album a family effort, with the help of his step-brother Mopreme Shakur on the track, “Papa’z Song,” a gut-wrenching track from the perspective of two children standing up to their deadbeat father.
The album closes with “5 Deadly Venomz” featuring Anthony “Treach” Criss of Naughty By Nature, and the late-Anthony “Apache” Peaks.
Much in the way that Dr. Dre‘s The Chronic was the first of several future successes, Tupac went on to record three more full-length studio albums. Tragically, on September 7, 1996, Tupac Shakur was shot and killed by an unknown assailant following a boxing match in Las Vegas.
It’s sad that we will never know what Tupac could have accomplished, and we remember and honor the prolific life he leads and the legacy he left behind.
#SoundingOFF is Salute Magazine‘s weekly music column from senior editor Daniel Offner. This week, we take a look back at the influence Tupac’s sophomore album has had over the last 25 years.